Scallop Season Opens Friday, But Unalaska Fishermen Won't Get Underway Till Fall

Jun 30, 2016

A weathervane scallop shell decorates the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Unalaska.
Credit Laura Kraegel

Weathervane scallop fisheries will open Friday across Alaska. But it'll be a while before commercial fishermen in Unalaska can harvest the world's biggest scallops — or think about selling their catch locally.

Miranda Westphal works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as the area management biologist for Dutch Harbor and the Bering Sea. She said the state's five-boat fleet of scallop dredges won't arrive in Unalaska until September or October.

"They start off in Southeast," she said. " They'll fish up around the Gulf, coming through and down the Aleutians, and they usually end up here around crab season."

Once the dredges hit Dutch Harbor, Westphal said four or five crews usually reach the guideline harvest level (GHL) in under a week. This season, the GHL remains steady at 5,000 pounds of shucked meat for both Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean waters.

That makes scallop a small fishery in Unalaska, but Westphal said it's still one of the most important stocks of shellfish.

"It's a state fishery," she said. "Our state fisheries always tend to be smaller than the big federal fisheries, like pollock or halibut. But I think for the folks that fish it, it's important financially. And then for the folks that enjoy eating them, it's very important that somebody's out there harvesting and bringing them in."

That's because weathervane scallops are an offshore, deep-water species — not easily harvested for subsistence. Westphal said most locals rely on commercial crews to sell some of their catch in town after they ship the majority to bigger buyers.

But that decision is up to the captain of each vessel, and last year, none sold scallops in Unalaska. This season, Westphal said the community will just have to wait and see if weathervanes are sold locally in the fall.